FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Summertime Blues

Americans are pessimistic about the economy and their government, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. It's little wonder that President Bush's approval ratings are at an all-time low... though Democrats aren't necessarily being seen as having all the answers, either.

Most depressing of all, the trends causing Americans to feel so blue may be leading to worse times instead of better ones. The economic trends are pointing toward higher unemployment and an overall slower economy even before factoring in the effects of Hurricane Katrina. According to Pew, economic pessimism shot up in August to the highest level during Bush's tenure. It also marks the first time since January 2001 -- the very start of Bush's first term -- that more people were pessimistic about the economy than were optimistic.

Aside from the economy, numbers also bode ill for Bush on the Iraq war. Barely half (51%) of those surveyed by Pew support our current open-ended military commitment to Iraq, and 57% support a timetable for troop withdrawal. Bush has even lost his edge on what many see as his political trump card -- support for his approach to terrorism and homeland security.

Energy is also putting a drag on Bush, although only 27% in the Pew survey blamed him for rising fuel prices. Energy concerns, however, offer a mixed bag for Democrats, environmentalists especially. Those surveyed by Pew support higher fuel efficiency requirements for vehicles, yet they are also more supportive of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Overall, respondents felt that developing new energy sources outweighed conservation as a national priority.

Since Bush won't be facing another election, these numbers affect him less than Republicans who are closely identified with the administration, and who will be up for re-election in 2006. Although the 2006 elections are more than a year away (a lifetime in political terms), candidates in both parties are surely keeping a close eye on Bush's poll numbers.

Bush's woes, however, aren't necessarily a gain for Democrats. In the Pew survey, only 49% of Democrats approve of the job their leadership is doing. Additionally, 63% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents thought the party was doing a good job advocating its core values -- support for the disadvantaged, the working class and minorities. This suggests that Democratic success in future elections will depend on new candidates who can energize the party base and convince undecided voters to vote Democratic.

Some have suggested that the political, logistic and even ethical fallout from Katrina, combined with angst over the war in Iraq and the religious right's social agenda, could trigger a fundamental shift to the left (or at least to the center), ending the general trend toward conservatism that began with Ronald Reagan... perhaps even leaving the Democratic establishment behind. Already, we're seeing signs of the return of "big government" in the post-Katrina public funding needed to reconstruct the Gulf region and support displaced persons. Any speculation on other political implications may be premature, but the current level of disaffection shows that the electorate is restless... and will become more so if the economy deteriorates.